Boy Takes Home Top Prize in Competition for Girls in STEM

In the name of fairness, a U.K. organization opened up the challenge to both genders.
(Photo: Getty Images)
Feb 28, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

Pretty Curious, a U.K. program aimed at getting girls interested in STEM careers, asks on its website, “Why aren’t more girls pursuing science?” Some critics of the program think the answer may have something to do with Pretty Curious granting a 13-year-old boy the winner in a STEM competition this week.

Out of more than 100 entries, the boy’s game console that harnesses energy through thumb controls cinched the top prize for energy company EDF’s Pretty Curious Challenge. While the program was originally created to keep girls interested in STEM, the officials at Pretty Curious decided to open up the competition to all U.K. kids ages 11 to 16.

Girls created three of the runner-up ideas: a floatable tablet, a smart fridge designed to cut down on food waste, and a sleep monitor. They will each take home an engineering kit, while the winning boy receives an iPad and a trip to prototyping workspace Fab Lab London for more hands-on experience.

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The irony of a boy winning a competition whose stated purpose is to “spark the imagination of 11- to 16-year-old girls, encouraging them to pursue science-based subjects at school and in their future careers” was quickly pointed out on social media.

Since EDF launched the Pretty Curious campaign in September, it’s faced criticism for capitalizing on a girl’s appearance. The group’s promotional video features young girls with the text “I’m pretty” for the first quarter of the clip until it starts including pretty as an adverb before words such as intrigued and curious. Pretty Curious officials have said they chose the name to confront sexist behaviors that determine a girl’s value by her appearance rather than perpetuate those perceptions.

EDF responded to the complaints by saying that the competition was gender-neutral, telling the BBC it was opened up to both boys and girls in an attempt to promote fairness.

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By EDF’s own admission, the odds are already stacked against budding female scientists. In the U.K., women make up just 14 percent of the STEM workforce. The Pretty Curious campaign notes that these low figures speak to the lack of support of young girls from their teachers, stereotypical media images reinforcing the idea that men are better suited for STEM careers, and a general perception that girls simply aren’t smart enough.

“This is a fail on so many levels,” Suw Charman-Anderson, the founder of celebratory women in STEM event Ada Lovelace Day, wrote in a blog post on Saturday. “Extending participation to boys rather undermines [Pretty Curious’] message, and when a boy wins, it says, ‘Girls! You will always come second to boys!’ ”